Forbidden (1984 film)

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Directed by Anthony Page
Produced by Hans Brockman
Mark Forstater
Gerald I. Isenberg
Ingrid Windisch
Written by Michael Hastings
Leonard Gross (non-fiction)
Starring Jacqueline Bisset
Jürgen Prochnow
Irene Worth
Narrated by Jacqueline Bisset
Music by Tangerine Dream
Cinematography Wolfgang Treu
Edited by Thomas Schwalm
Distributed by Anthea Films
Release dates
December 1984 (UK)
March 1985 (US)
Running time
114 min. (USA)
157 min (Canada)
Country United Kingdom
West Germany
Language English

Forbidden is a 1984 drama film directed by Anthony Page and starring Jacqueline Bisset, Jürgen Prochnow and Irene Worth. The plot is loosely based on a true story originally told in the non-fiction book The Last Jews in Berlin by Leonard Gross about a countess who hides her Jewish boyfriend in her apartment in World War II. It was a co-production between Britain, West Germany and the United States. It was broadcast on television in America, but released in cinemas in other countries.


German countess Nina von Hadler (Bisset) is a student in veterinary medicine in Berlin, Germany on the eve of World War II. Ostracized by her family due to her liberal views and opposition to the Nazi government, she lives alone, independent and strong-willed. The film opens with Nina studying at the library the day Germany invades Czecheslovakia. She is angered and tells a classmate she knows the reasons Hitler gave for the invasion (to allegedly rescue ethnic Germans) are a pack of lies.

One day while on errands Nina witnesses Brownshirts attacking a vendor. She also sees a man attempting to help the vendor. She confronts them and demands to know why he is being attacked. They say they beat him because he sells to Jews. She tells him to leave the man alone or she will report them to her brother-in-law, a high-ranking Nazi official. Later, while attending an informal party hosted by her friend, she recognises the man who came to the assistance of the vendor. Her friend, Erica, tells her that his name is Fritz Friedlander and he is a writer. She is immediately attracted to him, but Erica warns Nina that it would be illegal to date him under the Nuremberg Laws because he is Jewish. The headstrong Nina ignores this advice, however, and begins a relationship with him.

They must meet at one of her summer homes to escape discovery. Fritz's mother Ruth (Worth) is vehemently opposed to their relationship, as she fears for her son's life. Fritz is arrested and sent to a concentration camp to do forced labour, but is released. As the Nazis begin to round up and deport Jews, Nina suggests that Fritz go into hiding in her flat. If someone comes in while he's there, he must hide underneath the sofa, which has a compartment expressly designed by Nina for such a situation. She offers to hide Ruth as well, but Ruth is too terrified to accept the offer. Fritz writes a fake suicide note that his mother takes to Gestapo headquarters.

Later, Nina takes in another Jewish man named Max. She feels that in addition to saving him, she can provide a companion for Fritz. One day, Nina comes home from school to find Fritz and Max singing Jewish songs at the top of their lungs. Max is forced to find another hiding place. All the while, Nina must deal with her overtly curious neighbour and cleaning lady, Frau Schmidt.

Nina discovers that she is pregnant. Unable to claim Fritz as a father, she asks a Swedish friend, rumoured to be gay, to register as the baby's father, as this will make him look heterosexual and thus avoid Nazi persecution. Nina then finds out that Ruth has been called up by the Nazis. Because her husband was a judge and served in World War I, she will be sent to the "privileged" camp Theresienstadt. When Fritz and Nina come to say goodbye, Ruth realises that Nina is pregnant, she insists that no matter what happens, they must survive for their unborn child.

The arrests of Berlin's Jewish population escalates, as do air attacks from the Allies. Nina goes into premature labour and is rushed to the hospital. The baby, in an incubator, dies when the hospital loses power after being hit by a bomb. Heartbroken, Fritz sneaks out of his hiding place to see Nina and his dead son's casket.

Unbeknownst to Fritz, Nina is working in the Resistance, aiding Jews and other people hounded by the Nazis. One night, she is discovered attempting to hide some Jews in a warehouse and is shot. The bullet only grazes her face, and she escapes, but the incident disturbs her. When Fritz asks what happened, she tells him she was kicked by a horse while at veterinary school.

Suffering from cabin fever, Fritz sneaks out on a warm spring day and goes to his old neighbourhood. While sitting on a park bench, he is joined by a mysterious gentleman who engages Fritz in conversation. The man tells Fritz that he is a Jew-catcher, a Jew hired by the Nazis to find other Jews who are evading capture. When the man asks Fritz if he realised that he was sitting in what used to be a Jewish neighbourhood, Fritz claims ignorance and says his goodbyes. The man starts to follow him and Fritz begins to run, with the man in hot pursuit. He barely escapes.

When he returns home, he finds Nina desperately waiting for him. He tells her what happened. She has worse news for him; the Resistance has discovered that the Nazis are taking the Jews to Nazi death camps in occupied Poland and gassing them. She still believes his mother is still safe in Theresienstadt. She then tells him about a train going to Switzerland. She and her friends are smuggling several Jews on board. She professes her love for him, but wants him to go where he will be safe. That night, they go to the train depot, where he and other refugees are placed in boxes with a small supply of food and water. As she leaves, she sees Fritz running up to her; he loves her so much that he's unable to leave her. Together they return home.

By the winter of 1944–45, Berlin is in ruins and it is clear that Germany is losing the war. Nina's flat has been badly damaged by bombs, but is still habitable. She finds a little girl who has lost her family in a bombing raid. Her name is Lucie and Nina takes her to live with them. She tells Lucie that Fritz is their "secret friend" and she must never tell anyone about him. Things are fine until one day several Nazis appear at her home and accuse her of hiding Jews in her apartment. They search the place, finding no one. The head Nazi asks her about her couch and what is in it. Nina says it hasn't been opened in years, so she doesn't know. The officer then shoots it several times, destroying the lock, and depart. Nina opens the sofa only to find that Fritz was not in it; he'd hidden in a broom closet.

Germany is invaded by the Soviet Union. Nina knows that the Russians want revenge for the millions of countrymen murdered by the Third Reich. Attempting to hide in the cellar, they are caught by the Russians and forced outside. Nina yells to the soldiers that Fritz is Jewish, but they ignore her. Once outside, Fritz is forced to kneel as the Russians prepare to shoot him. He starts singing "Shema Israel". The Russian soldier lowers his gun and says that he is Jewish too. During the voice-over while the camera pans over a bombed-out and devastated Berlin, Nina tells the audience that Ruth Friedlander is eventually transferred from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where she is gassed. Eventually she and Fritz marry; Fritz dies in 1973.

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